Lebanon Board OKs School Proposal

Thursday, December 18, 2014
Lebanon — A divided School Board on Wednesday narrowly adopted a $38.8 million budget proposal that voters will be asked to approve in March, along with a new teacher contract for the 2015-2016 academic year.

The budget, up about $800,000 from the current year’s, includes new staff such as aides to assist in monitoring the behavior of the district’s third- and fourth-graders, a new member of the help desk to assist the district’s staff and students with technology and a data support analyst to assist administrators in producing reports.

Seen together, the board-approved budget and one-year teacher contract are anticipated to bring the city’s tax rate up $1.07 per $1,000 of property value, an increase of $267 on a home valued at $250,000.

Other increased expenses in the budget include added hours for the district’s information systems engineer, upgrades for servers, new laptops and iPads for some of the district’s teachers and classrooms.

While some board members urged additional cuts to technology, a majority of the board resisted further paring the request.

Board member Dick Milius said he felt Peter Merritt, the district’s director of technology, provided a “pretty good justification” for the more than $500,000 technology request at a November budget meeting.

The overall budget approved by the board is down about $300,000 from that initially proposed by school administrators in November.

At a meeting last week, the board nixed an additional third-grade teacher requested for the Hanover Street School. Board members also reduced the amount allocated for technology by 5 percent and cut the annual salary for the new data support analyst from $48,000 to $36,000.

Since last week’s meeting, the district’s Business Administrator Tim Ball worked with the special education department to eliminate $70,000, or the equivalent of two paraprofessional positions, from the special education budget.

Ball said he budgeted a portion of those savings — $10,000 — to cover costs related to teacher contract negotiations that will need to continue next year because the contract approved on Wednesday is just for a single year.

The vote to approve the budget was 5-4. Chairman Jeff Peavey, Vice Chairman Bob McCarthy and members Chris Haidari and Lori Hibner and Milius voted in favor of the budget, while board members Hank Tenney, Beth White, Kathleen Berger and Suzan Louzier were opposed.

“I just dread the day when Lebanon taxpayers stand up and say ‘enough is enough,’ ” Tenney said following the vote.

Tenney also opposed the new one-year contract with the Lebanon Education Association, though he was the sole dissenter in an 8-1 vote to endorse the contract, which includes a 2 percent increase in teachers’ salaries effective July 1, and some changes to health insurance benefits. Should voters approve it in March, the new contract will add $474,000 to the budget for next year.

LEA President Andrew Gamble, a Lebanon High School social studies teacher, said in an interview before the meeting that the agreement was a product of “give and take” between the teachers and the administration and includes a pay increase that he predicted would be “palatable for the community.”

The new agreement includes “some benefits for teachers, some benefits for the School Board,” Gamble said, but “for the most part, the contract language is basically the same” as that contained in the current contract, which expires on June 30.

The new contract alters the health insurance plan offered to teachers from a point-of-service plan to a less costly HMO. The district will save approximately $10,500 in the switch, Ball said.

Those teachers who would prefer to remain on a point-of-service plan may do so by paying the difference out of pocket, Ball said.

The HMO plan does not include out-of-network coverage, Gamble said. Allowing teachers to remain on their point-of-service plans by paying the difference was a compromise, he said.

An additional component of the new agreement cements the district’s commitment to continue to implement a teacher evaluation system known as Marzano, which is being piloted this year, Gamble said.

Teachers view the evaluations as a collaboration between teachers, administrators, parents and students to improve education in Lebanon, he said.

Both sides would have preferred to have reached agreement on a multi-year contract, Gamble said, but were unable to do so in part because of unknowns, such as the impact of an Affordable Care Act excise tax on generous employer-sponsored health plans that is scheduled to go into effect in 2018.

Voters will have an opportunity to cast ballots for or against the school budget and the new contract as separate warrant articles on a March ballot.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.